015 – Strategic Communication lessons from the Commandant of the Marine Corps

In this episode, I share some strategic communication lessons that I picked up from the Commandant of the Marine Corps.  The Marines have focused on the art of building and leveraging relationships with key stakeholders; we’ll explore one example in greater detail here.

What can Marines teach us about Strategic Communication?


This is my first video podcast, so if you watch on YouTube, I want to give a special shout-out and thanks to Roberto Blake for giving me the push to move from audio into video.  (This video on why podcasters should incorporate video was particularly helpful; thanks Roberto!)

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Setting The Stage

In Washington D.C., the Marine Barracks Washington is downtown.  If you’ve ever heard of “8th & I,” that’s the Marine Barracks.  It’s the oldest post of the Marine Corps, having been founded in 1801.  They tell a cool story of President Thomas Jefferson and the Commandant of the Marine Corps riding on horseback to pick a site for the barracks.  They chose a location between the Capitol and the Washington Navy Yard (which is the oldest Navy installation), so the Marines could get to either quickly in the case of an emergency.

As the oldest post of the Corps, they do something very special every Friday evening during the summer, called the Evening Parade, which creates unique strategic communication opportunities for the Marines.  According to their website, “The parade has become a universal symbol of the professionalism, the discipline, and the espirit de corps of the United States Marines.  The story of the ceremony reflects the story of Marines serving throughout the world.  Whether serving aboard ship, in foreign embassies, at recruit depots, in divisions, or in the many positions and places where Marines project their image, the individual marine continually tells the story of the United States Marine Corps.”

The Marine Barracks Washington D.C. Parade Marching Staff pose for a photo at the Barracks, May 1, 2018. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Damon Mclean/Released)
The Marine Barracks Washington D.C. Parade Marching Staff pose for a photo at the Barracks, May 1, 2018. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Damon Mclean/Released)

The Evening Parade

Let me paint a picture for you.  You pull up and even though you’re on the streets of Washington, D.C. and it’s really crowded, with lots of traffic, you’re immediately met by a group of Marines who are in their full-service dress.  The white hat, the blue jacket, the white pants, and they’re just exquisite.  They’re all wearing their medals and they meet you, they park you, they bring you in, and they’re very, very welcoming and professional.

I was able to go to a VIP reception that the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert B. Neller, hosted for about 200 people.  He gave remarks and he also introduced the guest of honor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.  There also were 3 other members of Congress who participated that evening, along with about 24 NCAA coaches.  Those two groups are really important.

There were many other people there that night.  After the reception, which lasts about an hour and a half, out on the parade deck there are bleachers that hold probably 2,000 people.

Chesty XIV
Photo By: Lance Cpl. Damon Mclean

The Marines give an hour and fifteen-minute performance, in which they have Sergeant Chesty XIV, who is the current mascot of Marine Barracks Washington.  He’s an English bulldog, and he has his uniform and decorations on, including all of his medals and awards.

The silent drill team, which is just absolutely astonishing in their precision, performs, and the Marine Band also gives a performance, including numbers by John Philip Sousa, one of the most famous Marine Band leaders.

Altogether, it’s an evening where you get to experience the Marine Corps on parade.

During the reception, we had both officers and enlisted Marines come up and ask us how we were doing, welcomed us to the barracks, and told us about their role in the Marine Corps.  They are steeped in their traditions and history.

It gives you a very personal welcome and a really heartwarming experience, being part of that whole evening.  After the performance, the members of the VIP reception were able to take photos with the Commandant and his wife, with the drill team, with the mascot, and with some of the bandsmen.  It’s a wonderful evening.

If you’d like to watch the entire performance, click here.

(Thanks to Prof. Enrique Planells for the link!)


Strategic Communication Lessons

So here are some strategic communication lessons.

For the purpose of this exercise, I’m talking about strategic communication in terms of stakeholder engagement that affects your organization’s ability to survive and thrive.

I’m not talking about media relations, I’m not talking about broad public engagement.  I’m talking about focusing on those stakeholders who have some kind of really important effect on your organization and its ability to exist and continue to operate.

The AIDA Model

The lens I would like to look at this through, is AIDA, which is an acronym that stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.

If you think about this being a funnel, at the very widest, open part of the funnel is Attention.  You have to get somebody’s attention.

Once you’ve gotten their attention, you have to create Interest in what it is you’re doing, what your organization has to offer, whether it’s a product or a service.

Then you have to move them from Interest to Desire.  You want them to, in the case of sales marketing, buy your product or purchase your service.  In the case of the Marine Corps, you probably need to attract recruits, and there are other things that the Corps depends on, as well.

Finally, once you have that Attention leading to Interest leading to Desire, you want them to take Action.

Personal Influence

Evening Parade
Photo By: Cpl. Samantha K. Draughon

In the case of the Evening Parade, there are three groups of people who are there participating:  You have the Congressional members, you have coaches, and you have members of the public.  All three of those are important for the future of the Marine Corps.

For the Congressional members:  What does the Marine Corps, like every other government organization, rely on from Congress?  One of the main things is funding.  So, that night we had the House Majority Leader and three other members of Congress.  Through that evening’s experience, they come away with a better understanding of the Marine Corps.  They certainly have a positive impression of the professionalism, discipline, and polish of the Marines.  That probably leads them to be predisposed to thinking positively about and supporting the Marines when they put in their funding request.

Same thing with the coaches.  These are NCAA coaches from a lot of different sports.  I believe that night they were Division III coaches from around the country.  Those coaches, whether they are coaching only, or they’re coaching and teaching on campus, are interacting with students and with parents.  They are in a prime position to make recommendations and suggestions for avenues that their students might follow for the rest of their careers.

Being able to recommend the United States Marine Corps helps point talented, professional, disciplined, young people to the recruiters.  That also helps the Marine Corps, because they’re always looking for qualified new enlisted and officer recruits.

Additionally, to have the parents also being exposed to the Marine Corps in this very positive setting, gives another voice to recommend the Marine Corps as a potential career path for young people.

Marine Silent Drill Team
Photo By: Cpl. Damon Mclean

If you think about what the Marine Corps is entirely dependent on, they’re dependent on recruits and funding.  Those are the two big things.

So, over the course of one summer season, you could have all of the members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, which play a major role in determining the funding for all the military services.

You could have most of the professional staff members that work on those funding packages.  You could have most of the members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for Defense also participating.

And so, if you have just the majority of them coming through over the course of a couple of years, now you’ve reminded them of who the Marine Corps is, what role they play in national security and national defense, why that investment in the Marine Corps is important.

Derek Krueger, green shirt, and his brother Austin Krueger, blue shirt, watch a Friday Evening Parade at Marine Barracks Washington June 22.

You also have touched thousands and thousands of either potential recruits or influencers of recruits, whether they’re parents or teachers or coaches.

So, those become positive voices to represent the Marine Corps when young people are trying to make a decision about what path they are going to follow in life.

If you think about this from a marketing perspective, in terms of creating influence and positive impressions, and getting these groups of people to help you with your messaging to those who are potential recruits and new members of the Marine Corps or to those who make funding decisions about the Marine Corps’ budget, the evening parade is a fantastic way to do it.

Broader Application

Is this an opportunity that is only open to the Marine Corps?  Absolutely not!

Every organization can (and, perhaps, should) do what the Marines have done.

The United States Army also does it with their Twilight Tattoos in Washington.  As an aside, if you live in Washington or come for a visit, make sure that you see one of these events, because they’re absolutely spectacular.

If you think about it, any organization could create some kind of personal experience or personal engagement with the stakeholders that are most strategically important to that organization.  Whether it’s a school, or a manufacturing company, or a services company, or a non-profit, there are unique ways to increase awareness, understanding, and engagement with your stakeholders.

The Bottom Line

For me, this is the main takeaway:

  • Understand who your strategic stakeholders are and why they are so important to you and your organization.
  • Find or create ways to connect with them that are meaningful and that help to build understanding.
  • These engagements should follow the AIDA model, in that they create attention, interest, desire, and ultimately, they can lead to action that is mutually beneficial for your organization and its stakeholders.

That’s the lesson for today.  I hope you find it valuable and I really want you to get as much value out of this as possible.

What questions do you have about public relations, marketing, branding, or organizational communication?  Drop me a line at Mark at BetterPRNow.com.

If you want to nominate a guest for the podcast, give me a shout.


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011 – Why PR and Marketing might become synonymous – Doreen Clark of SmartBug Media

Episode 011 - Doreen Clark

Doreen Clark, Director of Public Relations at SmartBug Media, shares some of her secrets to generating great press coverage, coaching executives to communicate more effectively, and the intertwining of PR and Marketing.

Media relations:

According to Doreen, public relations is a powerful tool and that we should, “Communicate in a way that is not just beneficial for us, but also for the people we’re reaching out to.” This forms a trifecta of solid media relations that comes together when we understand and communicate:

  • What our audience needs to learn,
  • The information reporters need to know to cover the story, and
  • What we want to deliver for our company or client.

She notes that, for media relations professionals, it’s easy to deliver the facts that journalists need. But journalists also need us to offer an opinion, because that helps them craft stories with perspective and emotion.

Media training:

Doreen has trained a lot of senior executives to be better spokespeople for their organizations. When she provides media training for senior executives, some of the key lessons include:

Coaching leaders on speaking to the common person, by using language they can understand. Executives are used to speaking with other experts in their industry; they frequently use jargon and technical language that the man on the street might not understand. Shifting their focus to be able to communicate with those who are not experts in their industry takes work, but helps them be much better communicators.

Helping executives learn to speak in soundbites during interviews. Long-winded, detailed explanations allow the speaker to be precise, but they run the risk of losing control of the messages that will come through in the final news report. Making the information digestible by giving clear, but concise quotes, helps ensure their most important messages are included in the story.

Everyone is a spokesperson:

In an age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, everyone connected to an organization essentially is a spokesperson. Having a strategic plan, in which everybody knows their role and what they are expected to do, is key to success in public relations. Doreen also recommends that we identify the subject matter experts in our organization, train them to be effective spokespeople, and that will lead to more opportunities to engage the media. It’s important for communication in an organization to be “by all, for all” and not just downward from managers.

Working with freelance writers:

When asked what she is most excited about, Doreen said that working with freelance writers has become a secret weapon. Her force-multiplier tip is to build relationships with freelance writers. It’s common for them to write for many different media outlets, both online and off. These relationships can help us get more coverage, if they are willing to share the work they do for us with their contacts in these outlets.

Merging PR and marketing:

Looking into the future, Doreen expects that “Public relations and marketing will become even more intertwined and might become synonymous.” She sees a blurring of the lines already, with paid advertising taking the form of earned editorial coverage. She sees a future in which PR will have more pay-to-play coverage, as advertising does now. While such changes could present signification challenges for those currently working in both PR and marketing, it could have certain beneficial effects, as it will drive improvements on both sides. For example, she notes that, “PR measurement tools are getting better and will eventually be on par with marketing measurement.” “

Doreen also sees a future in which podcasts and videos that are engaging, but brief, will become more important. After all, journalists need things to write about and to share as examples within their articles.

Lesson learned:

When asked what she knows now that would have been good to know when starting her career, Doreen said, “You don’t have to be everything to everyone; hone your craft; it’s okay to specialize.”

Quotable quotes:

“If you really pay attention, you can become an expert in anything.”

“Relationships are everything.”

“Stay up to date on your craft; you have to always be a learner.”

“PR is necessary, 100%.”

“PR is about elevating reputation and building credibility.”

“When you decide to do PR, make sure you’re starting from a strategic perspective.”


Contact Doreen:

If you are the Founder, CEO, or Marketing Director of a company that is looking to add public relations to enhance your 2018 goals, contact Doreen at dclark@smartbugmedia.com or connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/doreenclark

About Doreen:

Doreen Clark is the Director of Public Relations at SmartBug Media.  She has worked in PR and communications for more than a decade, on both the agency and the corporate side, and across multiple industries.

Doreen has created strategic plans to increase visibility, build credibility, and promote thought leadership through targeted media relations.  She also is  a member of the Forbes communications council, and a contributing writer for Huffington Post.

About SmartBug Media:

SmartBug is a leading intelligent inbound marketing agency that assists businesses in generating leads; increasing awareness; and building brand loyalty through inbound marketing, digital strategy, design, marketing automation and Public Relations.

SmartBug is a certified “Great Place to Work,” an Inc. 5000 company, and is the winner of 36 MarCom awards in 2017 alone.


Some of the resources Doreen uses:

Cision‘s database of media contacts.

CoverageBook saves time in compiling media reporting.

HubSpot to identify which articles have created the most traction based on links within the article.


Let us know what you think about this episode. Click that orange button on the right and send a voicemail.

Mayor drops a groove as he rocks social media

How do you get people to accept bad news?

That’s tough. What’s even more difficult is getting people to accept news that will have a negative impact on their lives. Perhaps the most thorny challenge is to get them to laugh and share that negative news. But, that’s just what the brilliant communicators at the City of Los Angeles accomplished.

Give your message a (musical) hook

In a stroke of creative genius, the mayor drops a groove as he rocks social media. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s slow jam lets Angelenos know that “the 101 will close for 40 hours this weekend, so we’re getting ready to take it slow.” The Sixth Street bridge is a major thoroughfare that will be shut down for construction, so there is some risk in making light of the situation. This communication initiative works, though, because the unique music video promotes the www.sixthstreetviaduct.org website that serves up key information for motorists.

Make the message integral and memorable

This approach also works, because it features a very polished performance by local high school students. According to Mayor Garcetti, “We teamed up with our friends at Roosevelt High School to drop a slow jam and get the word out.” Not only is he sharing information about road construction, but he also delivers subtle messages about infrastructure investment and the efficacy of the public schools. The fact that the Rough Rider Jazz Band is so smooth and polished makes this video instantly shareable.

Help your audience share your message

The team created the #101SlowJam hashtag and promoted it on the @LAMayorsOffice, @ericgarcetti, and @RooseveltHSLA Twitter feeds.

Kudos to Mayor Garcetti and his communications team for doing #BetterPRNow !